As most of you know, IDC is a major industry analyst. The company is also a division of IDG Group, which also brings you, among other properties, Macworld magazine and the Macworld | iWorld Expo. So you sort of expect that IDC would be fair to Apple.
But expectations are sometimes not met. So you have the case of IDC “misunderestimating” Mac sales in the last quarter, claiming U.S. sales declined. But according to Apple, which has obviously the actual sales figures and not estimates, they increased by double digits. This is the second consecutive quarter where IDC’s numbers undercounted true Mac sales.
The long and short of it is that those who report on IDC findings ought to include the fact that those findings may be subject to error.
That takes us to the latest survey of the worldwide share of smartphones in the second quarter of 2014. Here we see that iOS and Android, together, account for 96.4%. The remaining 3.6% is distributed among Windows Phone, BlackBerry and lesser contenders such as they are.
Now the dominance of these two platforms is not a question, and certainly the trend seems to be accurate, which means that Android is growing faster than iOS. But IDC makes a very critical mistake, one that is never addressed, which makes the figures at the very least misleading even if you take them at face value.
So with iOS, you know we’re talking of one product line, which is Apple’s iPhone. With Android, you are talking of many, but that’s only part of the story. Here’s where IDC continues to mislead their customers and the public quarter after quarter without addressing the contradiction.
You see, not all Android handsets support the Google Play ecosystem. Don’t forget Amazon’s new Fire Phone, which won’t factor into the numbers until this quarter, but you have other handset makers who fork Android and provide their own app and music stores. This is particularly true with the Asian makers of low-cost gear that have seriously hurt the largest portion of Samsung’s market.
So these handsets are technically Android, but they do not necessarily run Google’s services, nor do you buy apps from Google Play, which means those sales don’t impact the bottom line. Besides, sales data from these lesser-known players is murkier. Samsung pulls a common stunt, classifying shipments as sales, but there’s no way to know whether the sales reported by the other companies bears any connection to reality.
More to the point, these handsets from such companies as Xiaomi Tech, primarily reach an Asian market. But it seems possible that Xiaomi, at the very least, has hopes of entering the western world in the near future now that they’ve hired former Google Android VP Hugo Barra to run the International division. Clearly he’s not going to put any restrictions on market reach, with India and even South America on the horizon.
It’s a questionable, however, whether you’ll be able to by an Xiaomi smartphone at your neighborhood Best Buy or Radio Shack store in the U.S. anytime soon, but hiring Barra clearly indicates that the company, founded in 2010 in Beijing, wants to expand into other parts of the world as quickly as possible.
Now the forked and heavily modified OS on an Xiaomi smartphone is called MIUI. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, though it’s curiously described as having a visual resemblance to iOS and Samsung’s TouchWiz, to name two really different approaches. Regardless, it’s hard to see how you’d call MIUI just another Android OS despite its origins.
To be perfectly fair, I think IDC should subdivide Android into those products that support Google Play and all or most of their Android services and those with their own app ecosystems. As a practical matter, the handsets sold by such companies as Xiaomi aren’t going to enrich Google in any way and shouldn’t count as part of the overall Android marketshare.
Of course this smoke and mirrors game isn’t new for IDC, Gartner and other analysts, who pulled various stunts to reduce the apparent sales impact of the iPad. Rather than putting them in the same category as PCs, as you do with a Windows tablet, iPad wasn’t included. Worse, iPad market share is compared with millions of cheap Android-based tablets, such as the ones you buy at a discount store for $50 or so. I’d classify such gear as toys, not serious gear that you can actually use for productivity.
Yes, I realize this commentary may come across as sour grapes to some, that I’m making excuses for lost market share from Apple. But shouldn’t numbers of market share be presented as accurately as possible? It doesn’t help Google that so many Android handsets used modified versions that do not work with their ecosystem. So why put them in the very same category other than to make Apple’s apparent lesser sales growth seem more significant?
In short, I would like to know how you can really break down Android figures into official and forked versions, and whether the market share gains, if true, apply to the former, the latter, or both. I suspect, with the problems Samsung has encountered by Samsung of late, it’s the latter.
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- The iMac SSD Transplant Report It's quite certain that the designers of recent iMacs didn't consider what might be required if you wanted to change anything more than RAM. And on the 21.5-inch version, you can't even do that. So this forces you to load up such Macs on Apple's build-to-order page when you place your order, so you don't have to concern yourself about lost upgrade opportunities. Now I bought my late 2009 iMac towards the end of that year, a few weeks after release. I did customize some, with an Intel 2.8GHz i7 processor, and the upgraded graphics card. I kept the standard 8GB RAM, since I could always flesh it out later if I wanted; that was the one thing that could be upgraded easily. Indeed, when the time came to move to 16GB RAM, I did the deed in about five minutes from the time it took to lift the iMac from my desk, place the screen on a large towel, open the tiny cover at the bottom of the unit, and replace the RAM. Although that RAM upgrade should not have made a substantial performance change, or at least I didn't expect one, I found that some apps seem to be less apt to clog system resources. A particular example was Parallels Desktop, where I was able to launch into a Windows virtual machine somewhat more quickly, with fewer slowdowns impacting other apps. Understand that I seldom gave Windows more than 1GB of RAM, so the slowdowns shouldn't have been as drastic as they were. In any case, I appreciated the modest performance boost, but still suffered from long startup times, amounting to several minutes because I launch half a dozen apps at startup, and opening one of those large productivity apps, such as Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress, took 20 seconds or more. Anything that involved copying large numbers of files seemed glacial, and the 1TB Western Digital Caviar "Black" drive that shipped with the iMac was regarded as reasonably swift for its time. So I enlisted the expertise of Other World Computing, who specializes in Mac upgrades, to suggest a suitable drive upgrade for review. We settled on the closest match to the stock drive, OWC's 1TB Mercury Electra 6G SSD. If you want to buy one, it retails for $478, a fairly normal price for such a device. If you can don't need that much storage, or can rely some on an external drive, you can get a 480GB SSD for $259. OWC also includes some useful features that make it suitable for use on Macs. So what OWC calls "global wear leveling algorithms" and "StaticDataRefresh" are said to eliminate the need for one of those TRIM hacks, not officially supported with OS X Yosemite, which are often necessary for third-party SSDs. The major claim to fame with SSD is a performance level several times higher than a traditional hard drive without the wear and tear. OWC advertises "sustained reads up to 535MB/s and writes up to 443MB/s," although I made no effort to verify that claim. Alas, you can't just pop the hard drive out of an iMac and put a new one in. Installation involves a laborious process that you shouldn't try without some careful instructions. You'll also need to buy a special kit that contains some special tools and a pair of suction cups. OWC sells such a kit for $59. They have also posted an instruction video that makes the process seem less intimidating. It's still not a cakewalk, but if you pay close attention, and you're comfortable with a tiny Torx screwdriver and fiddling with slim, delicate wiring harnesses, you'll probably do all right. In addition to the SSD and the drive installation kit, OWC also sent along a 3.5-inch drive adaptor — the SSD is a 2.5-inch device — although you actually can get by without it. Oh, and by the way, next-generation of ultra-thin iMacs are even more difficult to upgrade. In place of magnets to hold the glass in place, Apple has moved to a special adhesive tape. In any case, I received the kit on a Saturday, and steeled myself for the installation the following Monday. I watched the video several times, and kept it available on another Mac, the review iMac 5K that has since been returned to Apple, just in case I needed a refresher. And I did. I won't detail all the steps here. But it starts with using the two suction cups to pry the glass from the iMac's chassis. After that, you have to unscrew a bunch of tiny Torx (six-point) screws to remove the LCD display. All this has to be done real carefully, and it's best to have some clean, soft surfaces on which to place the delicate components you're removing. Disconnecting the LCD involves unplugging some real slim wiring harnesses, and you have to be extremely careful. It's not that replacement cables are necessarily expensive, but getting them from a local Apple dealer or even an Apple Store will not be easy. They are not regarded as user serviceable parts. To prepare myself for the process, I ran a full clone backup to the external FireWire 800 drive with Carbon Copy Cloner. From beginning to end, it took over an hour to install the SSD. The photo at the left shows the iMac at the point where the LCD panel was being removed. The only fly in the ointment was the dust that accumulated inside after five years in dusty Arizona, and it required a few moments to blow it out. No doubt I improved the long-term reliability of this computer in the process. After the iMac was closed up, I carefully reconnected all the peripheral cables and the power cord. Since I had to install a new OS onto an empty drive, I pressed Option during the startup process to allow me to select the Yosemite restore partition from the backup drive. The relative speed of the installation signaled what I'd expect once the iMac had its own OS. The migration process required some four hours to restore 500GB of data to the new drive, about the same as the same migration procedure took on the iMac 5K. Once restored, I was able to give the SSD the acid test, and I was amazed. Normally it takes up to three minutes for my Mac to boot and all startup apps to load. This time the process took little more than 30 seconds to complete, and I hit the desktop in 15 seconds flat. Most apps launched instantaneously, and Adobe Photoshop took maybe three seconds. QuarkXPress 10.5 loaded in about 10 seconds. As any of you who has used an SSD can testify, just about everything runs amazing fast, and the dream of almost instant response is realized. Indeed, it is now hard to detect much of a difference between my old iMac, and the iMac 5K — the latter came with a 1TB Fusion Drive, which gives you most of the performance of a true SSD — which goes to show how much of what you do on a Mac is drive related. Based on the system tools I put into action, the iMac is also running a lot cooler now, since the drive generates little or no heat, usually not much higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit after some intense action. It's hard to complain about that. The sole downside, and it's minor, is the fact that a 1TB SSD generally formats to around 960GB capacity, short of the 999GB used by the previous drive. But that's really a minor trade off to gain those amazing speed advantages. True, an SSD, and the accompanying installation kit, aren't exactly cheap. But it's a lot less expensive than buying a new Mac. If you would rather not engage in such extensive transplant surgery yourself, and I understand why, see if a local Mac dealer would do it for you; an Apple Store would refuse for obvious reasons. You can also ship your iMac to OWC's own plant, of course, but first see if you find a nearby dealer to handle the chores, because it will cost less, particularly when you include the cost of shipping. A nearby authorized Apple dealer, MacMedia of Scottsdale AZ, considers iMac drive upgrades a Tier 2 process for which it charges $95. It's definitely worth the peace of mind if you choose to take this step. Now OWC normally sends out review hardware for 30-day evaluations. But since reviewing this drive involved a complicated installation process, they aren't exactly rushing me to return it.
- About Terminating iTunes with Extreme Prejudice So iTunes hasn't exactly received the love in recent years. Some say it's bloated, although technically that's not quite true. Others are just overwhelmed by all the features that are regularly added, without taking steps to simplify the interface so the power of the app is at your beck and call. Others fret over stability and reliability issues, and reports that music databases may be borked with iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music only make matters worse. Now my history with iTunes goes back to its origins as SoundJam and later SoundJam MP Plus from a now-defunct publisher known as Casady & Greene. In 2000, Apple made the smart decision to buy the product, and bring along its developers, including Jeffrey Robbin, now a VP of consumer applications at Apple. In addition to being lead developer of iTunes, Robbin is credited with helping to create the software for the iPod, and was, several years ago, reported to be a part of the development project to create an Apple TV set. Of course, that project appears to have been discontinued, but it's notable how Apple has put Robbin in charge of significant projects. I've known him for years, and he's a real talented guy and deserving of his success. But something's gone real wrong with iTunes, and it's in need of serious repair, or Apple needs to start over and rethink the app. Before I go on, don't assume that starting over is anything new with Apple. Ask users of Final Cut Pro, for example. Although the new and far cheaper version, Final Cut Pro X, got a whole lot better over time, some loyal users chafed at the changed interface and lost features, and went elsewhere. Still, Apple is not shy about changing thingsy, and it's high time that iTunes go under the knife. The latest version, 12.2, was released to introduce Apple Music. It's otherwise substantially the same as the previous cluttered version, only it's more cluttered. It only adds new layers of inconsistency and unpredictable behavior to an app that was already breaking at the seams. A major change of version 12 was the use of a context-sensitive navigation bar that totally confounds muscle memory. So when you move from Music to Podcasts or to Movies, the options and the width of the nav bar labels changes. This may make sense from a logical point of view, but it means that you have to stop and think before you click. Apple Music merely adds extra labels for the Music section. There's no Apple Music icon, since the feature integrates with existing music features. All right, that's part of it, and I suppose most of you have gotten used to the poor implementation of this feature. There's more, however. With Apple Music, context menus usually don't work, and the ellipses that are usually placed next to the titles of albums and tracks don't deliver consistent context results. Select an album in the For You page and the ellipse will only allow you to share the album. When you click on the album to open its playlist, you have additional options to share an album, but none to tell Apple Music you want that thing off your list post haste. To make matters worse — and more confusing — if you tap and hold an album title in the For You list in Music for iOS 8.4 (and now the 9.0 beta), you not only have extra choices, but one entitled "I Don't Like This Suggestion." Why isn't that readily available with iTunes? Tell us Mr. Robbin! I realize that iTunes is very much a browser, meaning that the content you access can be instantly altered. I suppose that adding more context options is something that could be done on-the-fly without updating the app, and maybe it'll be fleshed out over time as the service is refined. For now, however, the interface and the layout are poorly designed, as if it was perhaps thrown together to meet a deadline with the hope it'll be fixed later. Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," and my go-to expert on such matters, suggests that Apple's marketing people are being given too much power to drive the look and feel of iTunes. It's more about turning visitors into paying customers, but it doesn't even succeed on that level. If they hope you'll buy a track you're enjoying in Apple Music, the process is definitely not easy. Or perhaps Apple really does believe that we are all destined to rent music, and this is only guiding you into that direction. Remember, when you rent music, you own nothing other than the tracks you've previously purchased. Anything you've downloaded from Apple Music stops playing when you stop paying. If you decide one month you have other priorities, and you've spent days fine-tuning your custom playlists, will Apple allow you to suspend your membership for a while, and allow you to pick up where you left off a month or two later? Just asking. The reason I suggest Apple should kill iTunes and try over is that the app has moved in the wrong direction. It doesn't mean it should be split up into separate media apps, as is done in iOS. Having a single place to get play and acquire content on a Mac or PC is probably the more efficient idea. But that shouldn't keep Apple from starting over and devising a better way. It's not that there is better competition out there, particularly if you are accustomed to the Apple ecosystem. But how long will Apple allow this messy situation to continue before taking action?
- Apple and Microsoft — About Philosophy So in recent days, more and more tech pundits have published comparisons between OS X El Capitan, still a ways from release, and Windows 10, which arrived this week for download and bundled with some new PCs. Looking over these two, which actually derive an idea or two from one another, you can see where Apple and Microsoft have seriously diverged in how they approach platforms. For years, Microsoft has touted Windows Everywhere, meaning that, whatever device you use, you'd have access to a version of Windows. This would extend to point-of-sale devices and other gear that doesn't necessarily strike you as related to a PC, though they are, in fact, computers. Windows 10 takes that integration attempt a step further by building an operating system meant to work on a host of devices. But there will be touch-centric and mouse-centric interface changes as needed. So when you use a convertible PC notebook, one that can act as a tablet with a removable or rotating display, and one that works as a regular PC, there's a Continuum mode. It can be made automatic or require manual switching, but it will deliver the right input scheme for your setup. In passing, I wonder how some people might react if they don't get the memo, or OK everything and have Windows 10 switch modes when they didn't expect it. I also gather hardware makers will also have to adjust their drivers to allow for the smoothest switch. The other problem is the so-called Universal app, which means a developer creates one version that works on any Windows 10 device. The problem is that a Universal app is also "fat," meaning it has the binaries for both mouse and touch versions and is thus potentially much larger. This could become a serious problem for a notebook with a small SSD, quite common, or a smartphone without lots of storage. Contrast that to Apple's approach in iOS 9, where the OS downloads will be smaller, and you'll download apps stripped of the code you don't need on your device. Apple also does not believe that you can integrate a toaster oven with a refrigerator, to use Tim Cook's famously exaggerated example. Thus Mac notebooks do not have touchscreens, and the iPad, although keyboards are available, is primarily touch-centric. The operating systems may share some code and features, but they are optimized for the different user conditions. Integrating, to Apple, would remain a poor compromise, and it's an open question whether putting Windows 10 everywhere is actually going to work. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether those convertible PCs will succeed in a declining market where Apple is one of the few companies to grow sales and market share. Right now you pay a premium to have a notebook that can double as a touch-based tablet, and the sales case has yet to be proven. This fall, prices are expected to decline for such gear, but, again, that doesn't mean people want all-in-one devices of this sort, as opposed to a computer with an integrated display, such as the iMac. So the features touted by PC fans as superior to OS X are partly related to philosophy. You don't need Continuum, but Apple has Continuity, providing for some level of integration among your Apple devices. The operating systems and the way you interact are different but you can still switch rom one to the other more smoothly. Well, mostly, because Continuity, and the Handoff feature can be buggy. One hopes things will be better when El Capitan is finalized. The other difference is Cortana. Apple's virtual assistant, Siri, remains on mobile gear, because Apple believes these are more personal devices that are a better fit for such a feature. Microsoft, wanting to have the same things everywhere, more or less, brought Cortana to the Windows 10 PC, bugs and all. While it may be suitable to some — and I expect home users will benefit most from Cortana — early reviews indicate "she" is buggy, and voice recognition is apt to cut off with a response before you're finished. A famous example is asking the name of the President of the United States. Cortana may cut off before "States," and thus identify the President of United Airlines instead. Surely that and other recognition glitches will be fixed before long, but Cortana is something Microsoft has had for a while, starting with the Xbox gaming console. So it's hard to excuse problems of this sort. Apple could have released a version of Siri for OS X, but hasn't done so. The use case is questionable, whereas Microsoft has no compunctions about throwing something out there for those who might want to use it. Or maybe just for bragging rights. That said, it's troubling that Windows 10 appears to have shipped with loads of bugs, not just in Cortana, but in Mail and other apps. While you expect glitches early on, and OS X Yosemite wasn't immune by a long shot, there appears to be too much going on that's not so pleasant. It may be that Microsoft ran headlong into getting Windows 10 out for back-to-school PC sales, hoping the worst glitches would be fixed by fall. OS X El Capitan will probably appear no later than late October, and one hopes the worst bugs will be eradicated. But doing any comparison is a little unfair right now, particularly for features not fully baked. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the next OS X is not just a bug fix update. There are lots of under-the-hood changes that promise better performance and security. The feature enhancements promise to improve productivity. So far most of what Microsoft is offering with Windows 10, aside from a couple of controversial features, is the removal of the Windows 8/8.1 excesses, and a few features "borrowed" from the Mac to improve multitasking. But Windows 10, absent the bugs, performs well enough, and the Microsoft Edge browser is good enough that the company ought to consider a Mac version. That's saying a lot, but the enterprise won't switch until they know everything's all right, and that may take a year or two to happen. Meantime, PC sales will continue to decline.
- An ISP’s Dirty Secret As many of you already know, broadband speeds are getting better in the U.S., at least in some parts of the country. Google is currently testing a gigabit Internet service in Kansas City known as Google Fiber, although the first speed test I saw covering service quality recorded download and upload speeds of 700 megabits. But that's nothing too shabby. I'd take 100 megabits if I could get it affordably, which, unfortunately, I can't. Imagine downloading all the high definition movies you want in minutes, rather than hours. It seems a way of realizing the dream of complete access to all your TV shows and movies in the cloud. You won't need a cable or satellite account either, and some of you have already cut the cord. I suppose judicious selections of online versions of your favorite stations, iTunes, Netflix and Hulu Plus can give you all or most of the content you want. Unfortunately there is one troubling limitation that threatens to complicate matters seriously, and that's your ISP's bandwidth cap. Alas, most ISPs don't tell you about it upfront, as a wireless carrier might do when you buy a specific package. It may be hidden in the fine print somewhere, or support will tell you when you've exceeded the cap and risk a service slowdown or interruption. Worse, they may still proclaim "unlimited," as if the word had something other than the conventional meaning. Here in the Phoenix area, I have access to a pair of broadband services. Cox Communications offers packages with up to 55 megabit downloads (5 megabit uploads), with a cap of 400GB. The only competitive package comes from CenturyLink (which acquired Qwest in 2010), which offers up to 40 megabits downloads and up to 20 megabit uploads. In the real world, CenturyLink downloads are actually faster than Cox, and upload speeds blow Cox away. But their bandwidth cap is pegged at 250GB for downloads. You can upload as much as you want without incurring any penalties. Now you probably realize that it doesn't take too many days of constant HD movie downloads before you reach and exceed the ISP's limits. With both Cox and CenturyLink, you'll first get warnings, but they reserve the right to terminate your service with extreme prejudice for your "evil" behavior. I understand that ISPs may be constrained by server capacity, and thus feel they have to restrict users to a fixed amount of bandwidth before you run afoul of their quality standards. But it's really more about the number of simultaneous connections and the amount of data being downloaded at any moment in time rather than the total, actually. It's not as if your ISP is storing your content, or at least I hope not. Now if you're getting your TV content from your ISP, there are no restrictions, since everything originates on their network. Certainly I can see the marketing advantage in all this, although customers should be allowed to download whatever content they want without being discriminated against. There is a form of net neutrality in effect in the U.S., but it doesn't address needless bandwidth caps. It just mandates broadband equality. Of course, if you are careful about how much you download, or your lucky enough to have an ISP in your city with more liberal bandwidth caps -- or no caps at all -- you have nothing whatever to worry about. For me, I continue to monitor the content I download, and I only occasionally use iTunes to rent a movie. If Apple plans to introduce a subscription TV/movie service, however, they will confront this obstacle, and it's not something that is easily remedied, unless the broadband providers get their acts together and treat customer needs fairly. But one big problem is that, in many locales, they have no competition. If your broadband provider doesn't give you the service you want, you may not find another with equal or better service. This is the sort of monopoly situation that can cause abuses of this sort. Besides, it's not a trivial matter to start a new ISP. If you want to build your own network, and not just lease bandwidth from someone else, you have to spend a bundle digging up streets and laying cable. For that, you need permission from localities, and conform to specific licensing regulations. Even then, it's possible a housing or apartment complex has already made a deal with another provider for wiring, and thus will not allow you to use someone else's pipes. Sure, they can't stop you from installing a satellite dish, assuming that you conform to some basic installation scenarios and have a clear path to the satellites themselves. But ISPs? Other than dial-up, forget about an alternative. I realize that a large portion of my readers live in other countries, and thus your ISP may have different services, bandwidth caps, and other requirements. You still may or may not have an option if the service you get is subpar. Although I'm not necessarily a fan of Google, I like the concept of Google Fiber. It's cheap, and even offers a TV service to compete with cable and satellite. If the Kansas City experiment succeeds, it would be real nice to see Google laying cables in my area. I do not expect to see the new broadband service spread far and wide so quickly, though, but maybe the existence of Google Fiber will inspire other ISPs to clean up their acts.
This article was posted on Friday, August 15th, 2014 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: Amazon, Android, Apple, Best Buy, Fire Phone, Gartner, Google, Google Android, Hugo Barra, IDC, IDG Group, iPad, Iphone, Mac, Macworld, Macworld | iWorld, MIUI, PC., Samsung, smartphone, tablet computer, Xiaomi, Xiaomi Tech.